BAR HARBOR—Due to an anticipated franchise agreement change with the town’s current internet provider, the Bar Harbor’s Communication and Technologies Committee (CTC) has suggested the town fund the construction and installation of its own fiber network at a cost of $750,000.
CTC Chairman George Grohs provided a memo with details from the project’s consultant, Casco Bay Advisors, at a recent town council meeting. He said the internet is necessary for the day-to-day function of town staff and services and that it currently depends on a fiber network owned by Charter Communications. “Due to a recent change in federal legislature, Charter will be able to withhold franchise fee resulting in a $45,000 annual cost to the town for continued use of the fiber and refuses to negotiate the expired franchise agreement,” said Grohs.
According to CTC staff, the project’s additional benefits would extend beyond the town owning its own infrastructure and being able to connect its roughly 20 town-owned buildings, including the transfer station, high school and emergency services. According to Grohs, once the project’s buildout has started, the town should be able to attract one or more companies interested in investing as partners and sharing the costs associated with building and maintaining the fiber network.
“What other partners are you contemplating?” asked Town Council member Gary Friedmann about the project’s potential partners and cost sharing.
CTC member Steve Cornell said the committee has reached out to private businesses that could benefit from the use of a fiber optic network. He said that a hotel group with multiple properties in Bar Harbor might be interested. “There has also been an interest from commercial vendors who would like to use some strands of fiber for their own use,” said Cornell.
The estimated cost of constructing and operating the network, said CTC committee members, would be similar to the increased franchise costs it will have to pay once its existing contract with Charter Communications comes to an end.
It was estimated that if it were to be passed by voters, the town would make annual bond payments toward the project cost that would equate to the annual franchise fee. “We are going to have to pay the $45,000 to $48,000 a year regardless; we should own the network ourselves rather than paying [the internet provider],” said Town Council member Matt Hochman.
A motion to place a $750,000 request for the municipal fiber network into the 2022 budget draft for review passed unanimously at the Bar Harbor Town Council meeting on Dec. 15. The project will come before voters at the annual Town Meeting in June.